Less than one year ago, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert boldly proclaimed, “I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former ‘King’ wins one. You can take it to the bank.”
At the time, it seemed ridiculous, and as this past season progressed, it seemed to become even more outlandish. By the end of the regular season, the 19-63 Cavaliers seemed like they were in for a long rebuilding period.
In the 2011 Draft Lottery, the ping pong balls bounced both of Cleveland’s lottery picks into the top four. The Cavaliers received the first overall pick for the third time in history, with the pick acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in last season’s Baron Davis-Mo Williams swap. In addition, the Cavs will also have the fourth pick in the draft.
Their last No. 1 choice, obviously, didn’t work out; he gave up on Cleveland and the organization in a move that devastated the city.
The struggles of this past season, for both the organization and the city, can nevertheless be erased almost instantaneously when draft night rolls around. Cavs fans got a taste of success during the LeBron James years. Now, they might just have the opportunity to watch an exciting, young team grow into a consistent title contender.
Dan Gilbert’s 14-year-old son Nick uttered a phrase before the draft order was announced that could very well become the team’s motto going forward: “What’s not to like?”
While many experts have pegged this draft as a weak one overall, the talent at the top is nothing to snort at-and the Cavs get two picks at the top. Combining those picks with the improved J.J. Hickson gives Cleveland a considerable amount of potential going forward.
Forward Derrick Williams of Arizona and point guard Kyrie Irving of Duke are the two standouts of the 2011 Draft crop. One of them is assured to be a Cleveland Cavalier next season, and in the months leading up to the decision it seems like one would be better than the other.
In a league dominated by young point guards, the Cavaliers have the opportunity to draft a player in Irving that would allow them to compete with all of those teams. Baron Davis may not be the player he once was, but he’s a highly talented veteran sure to be a good mentor for the young Irving.
What the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz do with the second and third picks, respectively, could further determine Cleveland’s future. While he’s not a consensus No. 2 choice, the Timberwolves might not be able to turn down the opportunity to bring the explosive Derrick Williams to Minnesota. This would give the Timberwolves yet another phenomenal young talent who would look good next to Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and potentially Ricky Rubio. But is he the best fit in Minnesota?
If the Cavs want to take the biggest leap forward possible, they would have to convince the Timberwolves to swap their second pick with the Cavs’ fourth. They could include a future first or several second round picks to make it work. Depending on how highly Minnesota thinks of Williams, it’s not inconceivable that the Cavaliers make the first two selections come draft day.
If Dan Gilbert is really trying to make a point, this is exactly the type of move the organization needs to make. If he wants to win a championship before James and the Miami Heat, it’s absolutely essential.
As always, the draft will be full of possibilities. While landing two players with the explosive ability of Irving and Williams would be ideal, there are a number of other options for the Cavs, such as Turkish center Enes Kanter, European big Jonas Valanciunas, and guards Kemba Walker and Brendan Knight.
The draft does get thin quick, however, making it all the more important that the Cavs were able to snag two of the top four picks.
No matter how the actual draft turns out, the Cavaliers are going to end up with two phenomenal talents. But the positives moving forward extend even past the draft and the players who put on the Cavaliers cap after their name is announced.
Over the course of the last year, Gilbert has made it clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes, and spend whatever he needs, to once again elevate Cleveland. He already has an excellent coach in Byron Scott under contract and a ton of flexibility moving forward.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls are proving right now that youth can contend both with spots in their respective Conference Finals and a legitimate shot at a title. If Cleveland makes the right decisions with its draft picks and subsequent roster management, there’s no reason that the team can’t be near the top of the Eastern Conference within three seasons. Considering where the Bulls and Thunder were three seasons ago, it certainly isn’t impossible.
Gilbert can’t control what LeBron James does for his current franchise. He can’t keep James from winning a title right now in 2011, nor can the team he owns – yet. What he can do is stay focused on the Cavs, hire the right people, make the right decisions, and get the team back on track towards contention as soon as possible.
Call it karma, call it luck or call it coincidence, after this year’s Draft Lottery the franchise and the city of Cleveland in general are off to a good start.